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West Sussex Dennis Rapier at Open Day
Fire Engine Photos
No: 19940   Contributor: Danny Chatfield   Year: 2009   Manufacturer: Dennis   Country: United Kingdom
West Sussex Dennis Rapier at Open Day

Billingshurst is one of nineteen Fire Stations in the county to be manned by Retained Firefighters.

Taken on the 26th of September 2009 at Billingshurst's Fire Station Open Day.
Picture added on 11 October 2009 at 09:01
add commentComments:
When I last lived in England in 1079, the Henley and Marlow retained stations each had twenty members, so as to be able to turn out between eight and twelve crew in three to five minutes, manning two water tenders.

Has anything changed in the past thirty-four years? I know that our volunteer fire services in the US often have much larger numbers of members in comparison to the numbers of riders they expect to be able to field, and my local one on Long Island only expected members to respond to 25% of alarms.

Added by Rob Johnson on 25 November 2013.
You lived in England in 1079, wow, you are even older than me!!!!

Added by Bristol Bob on 26 November 2013.
Somebody has to be. Its one reason I speak French, because my dad came over with William the Conqueror.

Didn't you read your old testament? The good guys often live a long time.

Know whey disc udder bin hay typo.

Now, apology accepted, but can you answer the question?

Added by Rob Johnson on 26 November 2013.
Sorry, cannot answer the question, I don't even understand it!

Added by Bristol Bob on 26 November 2013.
If you don't succeed, try and try again!

So, here goes:-
Do two pump retained (on-call) fire stations in the UK still have a staffing level of 20 members, or has this staffing level changed?

Added by Rob Johnson on 26 November 2013.
Littlehampton in West Sussex has 22 x retained ( on call ) and 9 x vcs ( day crew ) on the books.

Added by Calvin Fox on 28 November 2013.
nice looking pump , is it a rescue pump?good stowage and well planned by the look of it , nice lo and wide entry and exit from the cab and I spoke to a driver who says it handles and steers as good as any car he has driven and it is fast with great brakes , all in all a great tool , where are they all ?

Added by J Rennie on 19 January 2014.
J, These were the best fire engines you could ever wish for! As you say they did everything, and brilliantly. We had two at Droitwich and covered a lot of motorway on our patch. The speedo went upto 80mph but they just kept going! I was followed up the M5 to a shout by our photographer and he reckons I was doing over 90mph. I have heard they were capable of over 100mph with the sixth gear enabled! The problem with the Rapier was they were expensive to produce and struggled with the weight of the ever increasing amount of equipment stowed on a modern appliance. The Rapier gave way to the Sabre which was still a fine machine! Those were the days. The Volvo, Scania and Mercs nowadays just don't seem to have the same qualities of the Dennis.

Added by Matt Ireland on 19 January 2014.
I've said it before and will continue to say it the Dennis Rapier is without doubt the best fire engine I've ever driven - I served 32 years ops (so am nowhere near as old as Mr Johnson) the handling, speed and style were/are first class ! On aan EFADs course once, we had to accelerate to 50MPH then on a command from the instructor (who was sat next to you) apply the brakes fully and, at the same time apply full right hand lock on the steering !...the first time I was apprehensive to say the least but once the instructors done it (with you sat next to him) it has to be done ....the result ? the appliance just comes to a controlled halt !..This was of course on an airfield and not on the public highway !

Many British brigades 'dabbled 'with the Rapier but only three, Humberside, Shropshire and West Sussex took them as the mainstay of their fleet during the '90's..a lot of brigades said there wasn't enough stowage for equipment ??? and, the cab was too small...Dennis' then produced the ML (recessed BA sets in the rear bulkhead) cab and the XL cab (extra row of rear facing seating) as an option !

They looked superb and were probably the only purpose built (from the ground up) fire engine built in recent times...far superior to the Volvo's and Scanias we see now.

I believe the final nail in the coffin was the European engine emissions legislation and when the next engine was specified (Euro 4 or 5 ??) Dennis' found it uneconomical to adapt the chassis to suit this new engine based on the numbers of a appliances they were selling to brigades and the fact Scania were flooding the UK market with special deals

Added by Rick Loudon on 19 January 2014.
Rick, I agree with everything you say, but I should like to add another point.

During my centuries of studying the fire service, I have to come back to what I believe was the key problem that Dennis had. Like so many other British firms, they were very late in their efforts to get into European markets on a large scale, which meant that had to rely on just the UK market and relatively small export markets like Australia, New Zealand, Hing Kong and the like.

When I was interviewed for the job of Managing Director after Dennis was bought by Hestair, I discussed the strategy of making a major effort to enter the larger European municipal and/or fire engine vehicle markets, but the Hestair owners had no interest in doing any of this. Dennis was already under a lot of financial pressure by then, and just continued to shrink to the point where they simply could no longer afford to develop and adapt to new technology.

RIP Dennis - along with the rest of the British vehicle industry.

Added by Rob Johnson on 20 January 2014.
Britain now makes more vehicles per year than it ever has including trucks , vans are still made in huge numbers by Vauxhall at Luton and I believe they are away to launch a brand new Vivaro , they also make all the Astras for Vauxhall /Opel at Ellesmere portnissan do all their design/development at Sunderland and export like Vauxhall huge numbers to continental Europe , Mini at Oxford make and develop in huge numbers and export all over the world , Honda ditto and Toyota also , Jaguar / Land Rover are selling more than Porsche worldwide and we have dozens of specialised from Morgan to Rolls Royce and Bentley both of which are selling in record numbers , DAF up at Leyland in their modern factory make the most popular lorry in Britain and export all over the world , yes we have lost a lot or research and development and yes they are virtually all owned by overseas companies but hardly any companies in any country belong to that country , we should I feel make better use of the vehicles we produce in this country by the public services , Jaguars and Astras with Vivaro vans for the police , DAFs excellent cf for fire appliances and Vivaros for lfa and vans , we should because if we don't support our own industries like other countries do it makes us look like our own goods are substandard when in fact they are among the best , so we do make vehicles , in fact more than we ever did!

Added by Alan Ramsay on 21 January 2014.
It is completely true that the UK has returned to being a large scale vehicle production center. But British people do not actually own any of these companies any longer - they only get to work for companies whose profits accrue to overseas shareholders. When it was the other way around, we called it the British Empire!

Added by Rob eo on 21 January 2014.
I think that Rob Johnson was referring to the British commercial vehicle industry rather than the overall vehicle market.
If Leyland built DAF trucks are so good then why do we see so many Scania, Volvo and Mercedes chassis's being used by UK brigades.
Is it price, quality or some other reason ?.
Maybe you, or others, would like to comment.

Added by Steve Prosser on 21 January 2014.
I would like to hear from our friends in Lancs who drive and operate DAFs, going back in time it was traditionally British built chassis that were used until Volvo appeared with a truck chassis that was a bit more modern in looks and they were a decent price too , this started the ball rolling really and as the British are traditionally badge snobs we were soon using more foreign chassis than locally built despite our own Dennis being the best by far , I think it was price/badge/spares availability/back up and looks that swung the deal and the demise of British commercial vehicle products , yes we have DAF (Leyland) and I no idea why we do not use them and then again I have no idea why we didn't use Dennis despite its qualities , the DAF I would have thought would make a good fire appliance , the cab is among the best as is the chassis , I appreciate Rob was thinking commercial vehicles but we do make them yet we don't use them , anyone got a reasonable idea why not , I am just guessing

Added by Alan Ramsay on 22 January 2014.
Lancashire have been using Leyland-Daf machines for many years. Freighter to the LF, they seem to last all right and don't seem to have many failures, they also seem more compact than most and you don't need a ladder to get into them.

Added by Neal Glover on 22 January 2014.
Dennis did not have a level playing field and were bad at several things, namely eating other dogs afore they eat you. I still maintain Rapier and Sabre cannot be equalled. Likewise Bedfords on the TK and M chassis.
I agree about the Dafs. A friend runs six of them in LF form as coal lorries, all ex Parcel Force. They are reliable and good to drive / maintain. They would certainly meet many criteria as a light pump.

Added by John Stott on 23 January 2014.
In this discussion we should not forget Dennis Eagle at Warick who manufacture 1000+ bin wagons a year on their own purpose designed chassis. As they own the Duple cab factory at Blackpool who made the Rapier and Sabre cabs for Dennis at Guildford one could only dream that they could restart manufacture of the Sabre!

The Dennis Eagle chassis cab is called the Elite and there has been two vairiations of it, the Elite 1 and Elite 2. There have been some Elite 1 fire engines and I am sure there has been an Elite 2 'Fire Engine', which has featured on this site. I think it was a tanker. Can anyone bring it to mind so I don't think I was just dreaming again?

Added by Barry on 23 January 2014.

Could it be that Volvo and Scania were selling chassis at very low prices just to break into the market?
It seems to me that whatever strategy they operated they have succeeded as there are not many new DAF based appliances being bought these days.

It is great news that the Lancashire brigade have remained loyal to their local truck builder, which, in my opinion, may have been for political rather than financial reasons. Supporting one of the main employers on you patch seems to me a very sensible policy.

At one time, many years ago now, local authorities and central government departments would only buy British.
With pressures from many quarters, the policy (for reasons readers will be well aware of) was slowly eroded and now fair and open competition, along with value for money is the order of the day.

The direct procurement of fire appliances and other vehicles being used by public bodies can be fraught with problems relating to specification, price, delivery and numerous other complex factors.

As an example just look at refuse vehicles, most of which are now leased rather than purchased, therefore the local government department responsible for refuse collection has virtually no choice on what vehicle the lessor supplies.

The whole subject is very complex and if I, or any other viewer, had a viable solution we could be rich men.

Regards, Steve

Added by Steve Prosser on 23 January 2014.
Alan - I agree, thinking the price question was the main reason Dennis lost market share, and has been for quite a long time. I was personally responsible for selling the first Ford D series to Gloucestershire, all the way back in 1967. At the time, the only question was price. Could we beat Commer and Bedford, never mind Dennis!

At the time it seemed that a county brigade with mainly retained stations responding to a relatively small number of calls had to operate a comparatively large fleet of appliances.

So, price was a major factor.

In addition, one officer explained to me that many of their trucks were damaged by retained drivers, who were perhaps not too well accustomed to driving "on the bell". Cost and availability of spare parts was therefore also very important, because they "often" suffered engine and transmission damage!

I do not know the figures, but I guess the numbers of municipal fire brigade appliances at busy full-time stations must be a lot less than those in retained county stations, and this fact alone may have reduced the potential market for expensive custom brands like Dennis.

At the same time as the D series went into service, Glasgow bought what I believe were the first imported fire appliances - a pair of F registered pump escapes on Magirus Deutz chassis. As far as I know, they were the only Magirus PEs placed into service in the UK.

Added by Rob eo on 23 January 2014.
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